The Cleveland Browns passing game continues to be less than spectacular with Deshaun Watson on the sidelines, but Kevin Stefanski has kept the offense afloat with a successful run game and schematic prowess through the air. He has been able to take advantage of teams with sequential playcalling based on the way defenses react to his first couple of scripted drives.
For example, regardless of the play calling, defenses have been blitzing P.J. Walker quite a bit due to his lack of effectiveness and efficiency when dealing with pressure. In order to combat this, the Browns have been using a variety of screen plays and “sister” plays to pair off of them.
One of the main reasons why the Browns’ screen game has been so successful this season is due to the way Stefanski has been able to disguise it. He’s not doing anything new or groundbreaking in terms of the actual play designs themselves, he’s just able to run them out of a variety of formations.
For instance, on Pierre Strong’s 41-yard gain in the 1st quarter, Cleveland used a condensed formation for two reasons:
- To get the defense to believe that it was going to be a run. The Browns offense has used this formation quite a bit on pin/pull sweep plays this season, so that’s the idea that they were trying to project onto the defense.
- To get the defense to overload and/or press the strong side of the formation.
As an added element of deception, Elijah Moore went into motion in an attempt to get the cornerback and SAM linebacker out of the picture.
Needless to say, this play worked perfectly and exactly the way that Stefanski drew it up. By the time Pierre Strong caught the ball, there were only two defenders within 10 yards of him and only one of them could’ve made the tackle.
Perhaps one of the most impactful “sister” plays of the day was David Njoku’s 18-yard touchdown catch shortly after Strong’s big screen. Stefanski has been the focal point of negativity in regard to his playcalling in certain situations, but when it comes to the screen game and what he can sequence off of them, he might be one of the best in the NFL.
Much like the previous screen, this play was designed and executed perfectly. The defense “bit” on both elements of trickery:
- The Browns used orbit motion with Elijah Moore and released Joel Bitonio on a screen path to pull the free safety down and provide the threat of a screen to the weak side. Pierre Strong also took a fake handoff and released outside, while Wyatt Teller released on a screen path to the strong side. These simple actions pulled four defenders out of position post-snap.
- David Njoku blocked for a “2 count” to sell a screen to Moore or Strong, and then released to a wide-open pocket in the middle of the field.
The ultimate goal of this play was to clear out the middle of the field by faking screens to both sides of the formation so that David Njoku would have ample room to gash the defense for as much yardage as he possibly could up the middle.
Once again, this play worked perfectly and provided Cleveland with its first score of the day.